Featured Image by Tylonn J. Sawyer.
The Parables of Jesus are a gift into the insight and wisdom for how Christ wanted his followers to live. The lessons of the Parables provided teachable examples to understand better the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ wished to share. These parables are found throughout the Gospels—some are exclusive to one book, while others borrow similar versions from book to book. I want to take a moment to examine the “Parable of the Lost Sheep,” found in Matthew 18:10-14 and Luke 15:1-7.
“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Both version share the same story, but Matthew emphasizes the responsibility of finding the lost sheep, while Luke emphasizes the joy of having found the lost sheep. When examined together, in context and placement with the accompanying chapters, it is clear that God, along with the whole Church, carries a responsibility and obligation to lovingly support and seek forgiveness to all people of the world.
As I consider the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping across the country calling for affirmative justice in light of the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Amhaud Avery, and David McAtee, I cannot help but see that one of our own “sheep” has been lost.
Since August 20, 1619, when a group of enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of what would become Virginia, systemic and economic oppression of black bodies has existed in America. For 400 years, slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, mass incarnation, and racism have created insurmountable hurdles for people of color. In a nation established on the self-evident truths that “all men created equal,” America has tragically fallen short in the equal pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness. While the Declaration of Independence attempted to establish a nation of equal opportunity, the idea of equality has forever been lost to America.
In the “Parable of the Lost Sheep,” a shepherd is watching his flock when he notices that one of his sheep has gone missing. Rather than forgetting the lost sheep, the shepherd makes the bold decision to leave his ninety-nine sheep in search of the one separated sheep. This ludicrous decision to leave the ninety-nine in hopes to find the one, reveals a redemptive God who longs for the unity and salvation of all. This merciful and forgiving God embraces, with great pleasure, the lost sheep that finally makes its way back.
It would be all to easy to say that the “Black Lives Matter” movement represents the lost sheep, and the rest of America represents the other ninety-nine sheep, but that would only further perpetuate the white-savior mentality and denigrate a people who have done nothing wrong.
The lost sheep is not Black Lives Matter.
The lost sheep is not Black People.
The lost sheep is White Racism.
The lost sheep is Slavery.
The lost sheep is Jim Crow Laws.
The lost sheep is Mass Incarceration.
The lost sheep is the United States of America.
The United States is lost. The United States has sinned. The United States has failed to uphold its responsibility. Racism is the centuries-old crime that has corrupted America and forced the United States to lose sight of the “land of the free” it hoped to establish. The lost are the ones who need to repent and return to the group.
Repentance requires work. Repentance is asking for forgiveness. Repentance is learning what wrongs have been committed. Repentance is working to make a change.
It should not be the work of Black Lives Matter, for they “need no repentance.” It must be the work of the United States to repent. Since the United States has systematically discriminated against people of color, white people have systematically benefited from its crimes. It must be the work of white people to look into their personal and collective acceptance of racism. White people must look into our past, and must repent for the countless times they laughed and accepted racist humor. White people must repent for every time we have remained silent when a relative or friend make a racist statement. White people must repent for every time we have questioned the intelligence, value, or worth of a person of color. White people must repent for every time we questioned “our safety” for going to “that end of town.” White people must repent for crying about the animals who have been looting business, but not crying for the people who have died to systematic oppression and violence.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32) follows the Parable of the Lost Sheep, and it offers some concluding wisdom. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a boy takes his father’s wealth and squanders it in wastefully extravagant ways. Like the lost sheep that wandered away, the Prodigal Son wandered away from the promise of the flock. It is the United States of America, who, like the Prodigal Son, has wondered away raping, pillaging, destroying, and ruining the promise made the flock, and especially to our fellow Black Americans. While some may sit by, like the angry brother in the Prodigal Son Parable, and scream that “All Lives Matter,” the Father figure in the story reminds us of the foolishness of that pleading.
The United States of America has a great many sins that it must repent. It will not be easy. America made a promise when it declared its independence that all are created equal, but All Lives are not equal until Black Lives are equal. Only when America finally repents and rejoins the flock, will the angels in heaven rejoice.
 Matthew 18:15-20; Luke 15:11-32.
 “The 1619 Project,” August 14, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html.
 Luke 16:25-30.